Within the jacaranda decorated city of Pretoria resides the youngest Bantamweight Champion of South African MMA promotion Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide; an undefeated South African prospect bound for Contender Series.
Yet, a vignette of charity provisions a more deserving narrative to introduce 21-year-old Cameron Saaiman.
“The [EFC] world title is lying right here” Saaiman reveals, peering towards his belt. “I’ll probably put that on auction as well at some stage when I have a little bit more of a bigger platform. I don’t care for material things”.
“I’m very fortunate” Saaiman continues. “With our last fundraiser, we raised about 80-90,000 rands [£3990-£4490] for a little lady that had cerebral palsy”.
Therein lies the philanthropist, using a platform built upon MMA success to create positive change.
Indeed, during the post-fight interview that followed his victory over Sindile Manengela at EFC 94, Saaiman stated an intent to fundraise for underprivileged children in Manengela’s community.
“We are looking to open up a trust, or a non-profit, and then check to see how we can raise funds and distribute that to not only Sindile’s community from the next fundraiser, but for my community as well” Saaiman explains. “With every fight, with every big type of opportunity, that will always be a thing that is coming along”.
Of course, such a “big type of opportunity” is merely weeks away, as Saaiman looks towards a defining August 23rd matchup with Josh Wang-Kim on Dana White’s Contender Series.
Undoubtedly, Wang-Kim bodes a formidable opponent; one who forged a decorated 15-1 amateur career before turning professional in 2020. Holding a 5-1 professional record, Wang-Kim’s lone professional loss is a disqualification against Arnold Jimenez at LFA 127.
Saaiman, however, is revelling at the challenge ahead.
“I’m super excited” Saaiman admits. “I do think always if someone has a loss by disqualification, there’s always that type of asterisk next to that; it’s like ‘okay, well did he really lose the fight?’. So I’m looking at a person who is undefeated; he’s not been defeated, and that’s fun. Two undefeated professionals going at it”.
“Watching his tape, watching how he conducts himself as well, has also been very interesting to see” Saaiman continues. “Obviously him also being known for his impressive amateur record as well, that just gives me a better motivation, and a better platform; if I can beat that, then that makes a statement. I’m really looking forward to making a statement”.
More than ever, a statement is mandatory.
Indeed, Dana White posed a frustrated figure following the first week of Contender Series 2022. Only a single contract was awarded – to Joseph Pyfer, following his TKO stoppage of Ozzy Diaz.
The message was clear; White wants big performances.
Saaiman, however, is undeterred.
“That’s actually something that didn’t bother me at all” Saaiman shares. “When I got the [Contender Series] opportunity, I was like ‘Okay, performance is first. You’re gonna have to go out there, balls to the wall, leave all of it out there. That’s the way we fight; that’s how I fight every single time”.
“I think my fight with Billy Oosthuizen is a great example of that” Saaiman continues. “Even being up a round, and still going out to finish that fight. I took a lot of damage in that fight, but at least we did our job. And I must say that is something our team fighters, Team CIT fighters, do well. We do not like going to decision”.
Of course, success for Saaiman at Contender Series exceeds personal triumph; one could argue success bears significance on a continental scale.
Despite the continued Championship reigns of Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman, and Francis Ngannou, Africa is yet to host a UFC event.
Thus representing South Africa on the global stage, and cementing further arguments for a deserved UFC Africa event, means everything to Saaiman.
“I’m very proud” Saaiman admits. “We are a proud sporting nation, and I’ve always said South African fans are the coolest fans in the world. It breaks my brain why we’ve not had an event in South Africa! Especially a stadium like DHL stadium in Cape Town”.
“There are two things that South Africans love; rugby and fighting!” Saaiman continues. “We are definitely gonna have an event here, and I do think that then you’ll experience how cool the South African fans are. That also adds motivation too, for putting in a performance [on Contender Series]”.
Saaiman certainty embodies these words; to simply say there is a love for MMA seems a disservice to the deep-rooted passion ingrained within the young South African.
Such is his passion for the sport, Saaiman hosts his own podcast on YouTube and Spotify; Professional Amateurs.
“I’m a massive fan” Saaimon admits. “I do a lot of research on fights”.
“The podcast is a fun way to engage with one of my good friends from school [Jusha Dann], who is also a massive MMA fan” Saaiman continues. “We are also getting guests on, and we can see now, in the podcast, it’s gonna take a shift to getting these people on, and hearing their stories; sharing that type of excitement [we] have for fighting. We have a few guests coming up over the coming weeks, and I’m really looking forward to hearing not only who they enjoy watching – the fighters they look up to – but also just having a philosophy behind fighting as well; just hearing their philosophies, and seeing what they enjoy. I’ve always been a massive fan of the technical aspect of fighting, so this is a great way we can discuss this”.
“I really am obsessed with this sport and everything around it” Saaiman affirms. “Having people that are equally as obsessed, willing to share their knowledge, is so cool, and that’s basically what I want to do with the podcast. So, I’m looking forward to where that’s going”.
One could be forgiven for forgetting that behind all the ambition and accolades, there is a 21-year-old. After all, Saaiman has achieved more in 21 years than most could only ever dream of.
Yet, there is a maturity to Saaiman that is far beyond his years; a conduct which remains grounded, and ensures any praise received is met with gratitude for his coaches.
Thus, it seems only fitting to conclude an introduction to Cameron Saaiman with the gratitude he shares, in his own words:
“I must say, it really is surreal” Saaiman confesses. “I’m in a very fortunate position, and if I can sum it up in one word, it’s I’m grateful”.
“I always give credit to my team, my family and friends, and all the supporters” Saaiman continues. “I am proud of myself, but I know I could have not done this if it was not for a few handfuls of people who had this invested interest in what I wanted to achieve. So I am really, really grateful for every person who’s helped me on this journey, and I am excited!”.
The author wishes to extend his utmost gratitude to Daniel Rubenstein, Yousef Nassar, and Cameron Saaiman for making this article possible.
Photo credit to Anton Geyser/EFC Worldwide/Gallo Images